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A Ranma fan fiction story
by Josh Temple

Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video.


Chapter 4: Resource Conflict


"Commander Sinclair is being reassigned."
— Babylon 5, Season 5 Intro.

 

Nabiki watched as Gosunkugi left the central offices. Only this morning, her sources had told her of his imminent transfer. The little twerp had been acting very suspicious lately. Ever since — well, since Ranma's disappearance — he had changed from a quiet, spineless creepy guy into a quiet, self-assured creepy guy. It was as if he had a piece of steel buried deep inside him that had just begun to surface.

Nabiki did not like this at all. First Ranma's disappearance created a power vacuum that destabilized almost all of her operations, and now the spooky boy was getting ready to split also. As she walked up to him, she noticed his shirt. It was a black shirt that had the English characters "3V1L L33t" in a crude scrawl. He was also wearing a pair of khaki pants.

"Hello, Gos. Aren't you worried about uniform violations?" she asked.

Gosunkugi smiled slightly, "Not really. As I'm sure you know, today is my last day here."

"Yes," Nabiki said, pausing. The geek definitely had something up his sleeve, but what? And what the hell was L-thirty-three-T? "I didn't know student exchange programs were set up on the fly like that."

"Oh, I had the paperwork on my desk for weeks. It's just getting filed now," he said, looking at his watch.

"Why didn't you tell anyone about this?" she asked, getting irritated. He was hiding something, something big.

"And who would I tell?" Gos said with a slight grin. "After all, I don't really have any friends." He then started to walk away.

When his back was to her, she said almost casually, "You know, it rains an awful lot in Seattle."

Gos stopped at this and turned around, looking blank.

Gotcha, Nabiki thought. "Now, I wonder why you'd be going to a school there," she said aloud.

"So you think I somehow hacked into the record systems of over a dozen different networks just to get to a rainy city," Gos said with that smile, which was almost a smirk, back on his face.

"I think there'd be more than a few people interested in this little 'trip' of yours."

"Brilliant move. Get a bunch of violent, obsessed loons frenzied up on some circumstantial evidence and point them in my direction," Gos said sarcastically, "You know the Kunos and the Amazons might be desperate enough to fall for that one. But I wouldn't…." he said, trailing off.

"And why is that?"

Gos looked past her, off into the distance, then spoke, "Funny thing about bank accounts. They don't actually hold the money. They just keep track of how much you have. Don't you find that interesting? I mean, if someone were to alter the records, why, that would be devastating." Gos gave that little smile again. "Fortunately, there are safeguards that prevent that from happening. Now that everything has been taken care of here, I must go," Gos said as he turned and left Furinkan for the last time, leaving Nabiki confused, angry, and beginning to plot.


Ranma's eyes opened, noticing first her current gender and that she was in a blue dress similar to one she had seen Sarah wearing. Surrounding her in a rough circle was a thick bank of shadows, limiting her visibility to a few feet. She then detected movement just outside the circle; it was a vague human shape.

The form then coalesced into Genma, her father. "Look at you. I'm gone for little over a month, and you revert to this," he said, pointing at the dress.

"What the hell are you talking about?" Ranma asked, ignoring the unreality.

"I raised you to be a man among men."

"You fucking bastard! You didn't raise me at all! You kidnapped me!" Ranma growled.

"Her influence would have been counterproductive," Genma stated.

"So when you found she wouldn't let you disappear off into the night, you got her out of the way."

"You should show more respect for your father."

"Respect has to be earned," a new voice said. Ranma turned to see someone she'd only seen pictures of.

"Filthy woman," Genma said to his ex-wife. "Look at what you've done, and after all I did for you."

"What I've done?" Nodoka exclaimed. "I was dead long before you. And I guess I should applaud you for keeping me in line."

"You deserved everything you got."

"And when I almost had that miscarriage?"

Ranma watched her dead parents fight. The rational part of her brain knew that her subconscious was creating this dream based on the dossier that lawyer had given her. While it was never explicitly said Genma beat his wife, medical records showed that Nodoka had a large number of "falling accidents".

"That was your plan from the beginning; use a loony to get your heir. She'd be vulnerable enough to push around, and if not, she could always be committed."

"Bitch. I should have taken care of you long ago," Genma said, raising his fist.

Nodoka quickly reached behind her back, drew, and double-tapped two slugs into his chest. She then turned to her daughter, "That should have been done years ago."

Ranma looked at her father's corpse. Last time she saw it, it had to be dragged out of a forest. She then looked back at her mother.

"Ranma, we have much to talk about," Nodoka said after holstering her gun.

A part of Ranma felt that something was wrong, that the dream— it had to be a dream — was off. That there was some sort of interference. But these feelings were quickly overridden.


After passing through customs, Gos ducked into a bathroom. A few minutes later, a girl with blue hair boarded a domestic flight. Her identification papers were quite legitimate and matched the credit card used to pay for the domestic flight. She was listed as eighteen-year-old Erika Berkley, born in Boston, Massachusetts, although in reality she was much younger. Her plane's destination was Casper, Wyoming.


Ranma woke up suddenly, almost hitting her head on the low ceiling that hovered over the bunk bed. She looked around the room seeing about half a dozen stuffed heads. The glass eyes of the hunting trophies stared back at her. She then looked down to see her sister on the computer.

Ranma couldn't quite make out what she was doing, but the sounds of sporadic gunfire told her that it was some sort of game.

"Mission Failure, a hostage has been killed," a voice from the computer said.

Sarah pounded her first on the desk while shouting, "Damn it, Dan! Stop being a fucking spawn-muncher."

"There's no respawning in Rogue Spear," Dan shouted from the other side of the wall.

"Yes, but there is an insertion point and an extraction point."

"So?"

"So you just sit there and shoot up my team when the mission starts, and then snipe the hostages just when I'm about to get them to safety."

"Look, all I'm doing is playing my best."

Ranma squinted, trying to adjust to the arguing cousins.

Sarah turned around, noticing her sister was awake, "Oh, sorry, sis."

If Ranma had been slightly more conscious, she would have been annoyed by the comment.

"Sis?" Allison asked from the same room.

"Yeah. For some reason she insisted on sleeping that way," Sarah said while planning the next mission. "I don't know; might be a Japanese thing."

Again, if Ranma had been listening she would have objected, but right now she was trying to remember a dream she had last night. She knew both her parents were in it, but everything else was fuzzy.

"Wait a minute," Sarah said. "What are you doing in there, Allison?"

"Um… well… I'm…." Dan's girlfriend trailed off.

"Allison?" Sarah asked, and then repeated her name slightly louder.

"She just stepped out," Dan yelled back.

Sarah heard the door click open then fall shut. When she turned around, she did not see anyone else. She then saw the closet door slide open. "Allison, I know you're in here."

Ranma looked down from her bed. She could just make out some quicksilver shimmering from inside the closet.


After the plane landed in Casper, Erika waited in the terminal. She had a vague description of what Germ Forge looked like, and waited for him to pick her up.

Sean was nervous as he walked into the terminal. Until a few days ago, he had a semi-normal life as a programming engineer, hacker, and resident of Lockridge, but then his car was attacked by a bunch of sci-fi loons — well, Sean couldn't really judge them; after all, he had a template too — and now one of his long-time contacts was asking to meet him in person, then crash at his apartment. Sean did not like this; one of the cardinal rules of hacking was to never meet a contact in real life. It was considered to be a security risk. But Sean owed Spore, and was obligated to help.

Another thing that irked him was that Spore knew what he looked like, but Sean had no idea what Spore looked like. All he had was a time and a terminal. As he walked around the concourse, he caught movement from the corner of his eye. He turned to see a girl, maybe sixteen or seventeen, Japanese with a blue dye-job. Sean noted she was wearing a short chainmail skirt over a black leotard or something that fit her nicely.

"Did you see CNN last night?" she asked.

Sean kept his face neutral — that was the first part of the authorization code. "Yeah. The President gave a press conference," he replied

"Was the Attorney General with him?" she inquired.

That's part two, Sean noted. "Yeah, but I think the last one was better."

"You mean Reno?" she said, smiling.

"Hello, Spore. I thought you were a guy," putting out his hand.

"Um… kinda," Erika replied, tentatively shaking his hand after a static shock.

Sean raised an eyebrow at this.

"Look, I'll explain on the ride over."

"Right," Sean said, walking back to his car.


After pulling the nozzle out of his now-full tank, Dan walked into the Quick Stop. He saw Allison talking to the two clerks. "All I'm saying is that the workers on the Death Star in 'Jedi' knew what they were getting into. I mean, you're taking a risk when you work for the Evil Empire."

The one with the goatee turned to the one in the hat, "See? I told you, Randal."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah; same thing that roofer said a while back."

"Hey, Dante," Dan said, walking up next to his girlfriend. "Pump number 2"

"Right," he said, taking Dan's debit card.

"Isn't it your day off?" Dan asked.

Dante just slumped his head on the counter.

"Cheer up; at least here you don't have to deal with burn boy and lunchbox," Allison said, leaving.

"I can't believe you got them to do that," Dan said after exiting the door.

"I had to take a hit of counteragent, though," Allison pointed out.

"We've got to fix that damn gland," Dan commented.

"As long as I'm careful," Allison said, showing the small, currently green, Ouroboros tattooed to her wrist.

"You won't go crazy," Dan observed, opening the driver's door to the Beast. After getting into his seat, he turned to see the two glaring redheads. When Allison entered, one of them started to growl. After examining her face, Dan was surprised to see that it was Sarah.

"You will die very slowly," Sarah grumbled, while Ranma seemed to have zoned out.

"How the hell did you get them both in Catholic schoolgirl uniforms?" Dan asked.

Allison smiled, "Let's just say it took a lot of quicksilver."

"Why?" Ranma asked.

"Glad to see you're with us again," Dan said. "But still. Why did you do that? I mean, do you have a thing for that stuff?"

"Are you interested?" Allison smiled.

"Maybe later," Dan said, pulling his truck onto the road.

"As for why I did it — these were the only clothes Sarah had more than one set of."

"Well, it's your damn fault I even have these things," Sarah said.

"Huh?" Ranma inquired, slightly more coherent.

"You see, before the beginning of the school year, Allison convinced Sarah that our high school was switching to uniforms," Dan said, turning down another road. "I still don't know how you did that," he told Allison.

The blonde just smirked.


"Why the hell do you keep playing this stuff?" Erika asked while Sean drove down Route 220 South to Lamont.

"Wait, I thought you were from Boston," Reno said, moving into the right lane.

"So?"

"This is the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. You know; the Boston-based Ska band."

"Oh, well, I spent most of my time at MIT," Erika replied.

"I thought you were eighteen?" Sean said.

"Yes, well, I had many older friends," Erika fumbled.

"Of course," Sean said before pulling the car off onto the shoulder. He then shut the car off, pulled the keys out, and slipped out the door.

Erika turned to see him leaning against the guardrail. "What's going on?" she asked, standing next to him.

"See that ridge of mountains we're about to pass through?" Sean said, pointing to a range of peaks a few miles down the road. Erika nodded. "You know what the continental divide is, right? Well, that range is a little bubble in the line, called the Great Divide Basin. It's a region three and a half thousand square miles in size, where water doesn't drain in either ocean. Lockridge is inside it."

"Point being?"

"Spore was the better hacker. I mean, he did do that little IRS thing for me, and apparently he's the better coder…." Sean said trailing off.

Erika looked over at Sean, her face questioning.

"Don't be so naïve. You think he could obtain the holy grail of computing and keep it a secret?" Sean said. "Now my question is: if I ran your prints, whose would I get?"

"It wouldn't matter," Erika responded.

"True. We both know how mutable record banks are," Sean said, fiddling with his keys.

"So now what?"

"You tell me what the hell's been going on," Sean said, hoping that the explanation would answer something.


Entering the student lounge, Rebecca spotted Winston at his laptop. Ned appeared to be engrossed in his game, although that his I/O sphere was plugged in seemed odd. "God, did you spend all night playing that?" she asked, noticing the dark rings under his eyes and the large cappuccino sitting next to his comp. If she had not spent all night up working herself, she would have noticed the small necklace Ned was wearing.

"Yeah. So?" Winston said, pausing Max Payne. "It looks like you've stayed up too."

Sitting down at the chair across from Winston, she spoke, "Yeah, I was watching this weird show; Voltron, I think it's called."

Ned nodded before returning to his laptop.


"Damn," Dan said, driving into the school's back lot. "I hate the parking in this place."

"You know the front lot fills up quick," Allison stated, searching for a space. "I mean, that's why we get here so early, normally."

"Well, we would have been here earlier if you hadn't had your fun," Dan said as he drove past the building and into the lot behind the sports fields.

"So what? We walk a few extra minutes."

Dan shrugged, then drove the Beast into an open space. Getting out, he looked back at the school sitting in the distance.


Rebecca's eyebrow rose. Interesting, All the pieces were in place, but the plan was still vague. Lately she had just been doing what seemed most amusing, but this was not ideal for the long term. Even last night's work had been spontaneous. It had happened after looking at the data from the standing circle and some schematics Ned had sold her.

She sighed and activated the program, knowing the most likely outcome, but considered the loss of a prototype worth the potential intelligence. Hearing Ned packing his computer, Rebecca looked up. "Leaving so soon? But class isn't for ten minutes."

Putting on a leather jacket that went to mid-thigh, Winston slipped the laptop into a harness style pocket. Bearing a strange likeness to a large holster, it allowed heavy or bulky objects to be stored and concealed. "Yeah. I've got some stuff I need to do," he said, walking out of the lounge.

Rebecca shrugged and went back to her computer.


"This really sucks," Ranma said, glaring at her short, pleated plaid skirt.

"Yes, and since neither of us has gym this semester, we have nothing to change into," Sarah said, walking next to her sister. "Well played," she said to Allison.

"I try my best," Allison responded, looking back into the wooded foothills behind the school.

"What?" Dan asked.

"Huh? Nothing, just thought I saw something."


Leaving the second floor bathroom, Ned looked out the window and saw four people walking across the soccer field. Looking past them, he spotted a familiar shimmer at the base of the tree line.

He watched as the shimmer gained definition and started to move. "Oh fuck," Ned said, looking at his necklace.


"So, you study for your chemistry test today?" Sarah asked Ranma.

"I'll do fine, I guess," Ranma said, then hearing breaking glass, looked up. "What the hell?"


"Fuck it," Ned said, just before jumping through the window. Landing on the first floor roof, he proceeded to run off it. Hitting the ground in a roll, Winston jumped up, swallowing the contents of a pill bottle while running. "At least that part works," he thought after noticing his sustained damage diminish.

"Get into your templates!" Ned shouted, pulling out his grenade launcher.


Dan shifted into his template, pulling out his guns, "Winston, what the fuck's going—"

Ned fired. The shell was lobbed over the four teens and into an empty area of the back lot. It hit the ground, sending out a fireball followed by a small shockwave. Both seemed to be deflected by a rather large, invisible object.

Now in her power armor, Sarah detected the anomaly faintly. Allison had also shifted, her clothing changed into a set of fatigues, boots, and some sort of large gun. Going with the flow, Ranma changed too, entering her template. "I hate this thing," Ranma growled, wearing a different school uniform, now fuku-style, and much worse than the one Allison had forced her into.

Standing on high-heeled boots, she clenched her hand, her long and painted fingernails digging into her palms. The runes in her bracers had started to glow. She could feel the jewelry, the pieced ears, how her hair had been changed… but most of all, her wings. She could feel through them, even in their compact form where they were just little angel wings. Ranma started to grind her teeth.

"Um, sis?" Sarah asked, just before Ranma screamed, extended her wings to their full state, and jumped up into the air.

Something from the distortion became visible. Containing several slits on the face of it, the thing resembled the end of an arm. What seemed to be a stream of an almost liquid metal shot out of the slits at Ranma. Pulling her wings back, she dropped into a dive right at the thing, firing right at the streams in thick red rays from her bracer-amps. When cut, the unattached lines of metal fell to the ground.

"Allison," Dan said, to which the blonde quicksilvered and went invisible.

Ned was now almost even with Dan and Sarah, still carrying his M-79 grenade launcher. He fired another round just to the left of the visible portion. Again it hit and carried that strange deflection. "Damn! As long as it's invisible, we're screwed," Ned said to Dan after Sarah had taken off to cover Ranma.

"It's being taken care of. Shall we?" Dan asked, switching to an armor-piercing clip for his Uzis.

"Right," Ned said, pulling out his twin Ingrams, guns very similar to Dan's.


Rebecca watched the fight from her laptop, although anyone looking over her shoulder would see a meaningless jumble of green characters moving in a window. It was one of many tricks she picked up from that movie. She'd used it for so long she didn't even see the code, but images and senses more intricate that could be produced by a mere monitor, for it was her mind's eye that translated it.

Ned's involvement was an unexpected but understandable complication. Oh well. This fight would also be test trial for the new routines she had added to Ranma's template. She was curious as to whether the self-adaptation routines she found would work. They were notoriously vague and buggy things, the main reason that they were not used in templates.


"Okay," Ranma thought, rolling over to avoid another group of liquid metal spikes. "Sarah's behind me providing cover, Dan and that other guy are gunning interference, and Allison's disappeared. Meanwhile, this thing only makes its weapons visible just long enough to fire, allowing us to only take in a few shots, and this thing isn't giving off any ki, something that every magical construct, living person, and appliance larger than a toaster possesses to some extent." Scanning the last place she saw the thing, she pulled her wings and went into a steep ascent. Ranma then looked over to her sister.

Standing almost vertical, elevated by her jumpjets, Sarah shook her head. Her onboard sensors could only get echoes and static. Sarah looked down to see Winston and Dan almost back to back, waiting, knowing that a fluid lance could appear at any moment, and that dodging would be difficult at best. Dan had already taken a glancing blow, exposing his template's cybernetic endoskeleton just below his right ribs. At least Ranma and herself had three dimensions to maneuver in.

"I wish I could see the bastard," Ranma thought, waiting for the next wave. A strange compulsion then developed, that if she wanted to, she could have something that would do just that. The winged girl then felt the urge to say something. Giving in, she uttered the words: "Rose Hand Mirror, Activate!"

Shuddering, Ranma looked down to see a small, almost pinkish compact mirror resting in her left hand. "One step closer to being a fucking princess," she muttered. Its surface had roses inscribed in the circumference, and when she flipped it open, one half contained the standard mirror that doubled as a miniature viewscreen, and the other had the mix of small buttons which looked like makeup despite being plastic. Centered on it was a large humanoid shape with arrows and stats pointing to various points.

Noting the status meter pointing to the left arm of the thing change, she dodged another volley of spikes. Finding it severely awkward to hold the thing in battle, Ranma received another compulsion. After saying, "Rose Glasses, Activate!" a pair of slim rose-tinted shades appeared over her eyes, providing an overlay similar to that of the mirror that had disappeared again, although with these there were no controls. Now armed with an unobtrusive way of seeing the enemy, Ranma dove at it, aiming her twin beams at points the glasses highlighted.

"Oh God, there's more crap," Sarah thought, seeing her sister summon various artifacts. She then noted that Ranma did seem to be able to see the invisible enemy. Shrugging, she followed her sister in.


While covering Winston's clip reload, Dan noticed Ranma nimbly dance around the metal tendrils, barely avoiding spikes whose power Dan knew all too well, while the powerful shots from her bracers were impacting with something. He saw Sarah providing support, alternating between firing at the same spot as Ranma and cutting some of the liquid blades. Dan raised his arm until it was vertical, and then quickly pulled it down.


Seeing the signal, Allison stepped forward. Thankful for the fresh shot of counteragent, she had tried to shadow the thing while staying undetected. Quicksilver bends light around the object it encases, causing invisibility. Light cannot pass through the quicksilver, making Allison blind as well as invisible. The blonde solved this problem by encoding supplemental sensors to her template, such as pulsed LYDAR, SONAR, passive thermal scan, and other non-optical systems. Composited together, these created strange grayscale images that gave Allison a surprisingly good picture. This was how she was able to see what they were up against.

Tacking her gun, she fired five shots in quick succession. Hitting various points, the sticky bombs gripped onto some flexible cloak covering the thing. Allison backed off again while the fuse delay counted down.


Dan paused when several explosions erupted around the object. "Holy fuck! It's a mech in a cape!" he exclaimed when the smoke cleared revealing the machine, surrounded by a now holed and torn fabric.

"Yes, a cloak of invisibility," Winston said, pulling out his sniper rifle. Quickly shouldering the weapon, "Ah, Balgus, if you only knew," he said before centering on a grill in the head of the mech. Ned fired, sending the slug right into the cockpit of the guymelef which, if the mech had a pilot, would have been a fatal head wound.

"So it's a 'bot," Dan said, getting out his missile launcher.

"Or remote controlled," Winston said, following suit with his grenade launcher.

"On three," Dan said, motioning with his hand.


After catching the signal, Allison readied her weapon. When the timer ran down, each fired. The three missiles lobbed over to the head of the mech and hit. The explosion knocked a large section of its head off. At that moment, Ranma, high above the guymelef, flipped into a steep dive. The powerful beams from her amps entered the smoking neck hole, cut through the mech's innards, and burst out, hitting the ground.

The machine used one of its arms to try to hit Ranma, but she was able to twist around the liquid blades, although the closer she kept her wings, the less maneuverability she had. With its other arm, the mech extended its blades into a long arc which it tried to sweep across the field.

Dan had two choices — dodge or fire. He knew he would be hit first and that time was short, but Dan still carefully aimed his launcher at the end of the arm that generated the approaching blade. After the missile was released, he twisted his body back and down, pulling the missile launcher up as a protective measure. The missile hit the vents where the metal was released, destroying the apparatus. The giant scythe started to fall and lose cohesion, just before it impacted with Dan. It cut the missile launcher near the handle, slashed his left arm in a long oblique gash midway between his elbow and wrist, passed over his head, and fell to the ground in a mercury-like splash.

"Oh fuck!" Dan moaned when he fell onto his back. The broken launcher lay on either side of him. His cybernetics immediately began working on sealing the stump. The wound was sickeningly uniform and level, clearly showing his endoskeleton, musculature, and various other components. He raised his head and looked mournfully at his arm, still in the sleeve of his coat, lying in the grass. His template could repair most injuries, like self-inflicted knife wounds, but it had never occurred to him to code in full amputation. At least his internal systems could block the pain, shock, and blood loss.

One handed, he loaded a clip of armor piercing rounds into an Uzi and racked it.


Ranma continued her descent until she was even with the burnt remainder of the mech's head. Grabbing onto the twisted metal surrounding the exposed hole into the machine, she folded back her wings and flipped over, hitting the thing's chest with her boots. A small icon appeared on her glasses, tracking from left to right. She turned to see it match the path of a missile destroying the mech's left arm.

She also sensed blades coming in from the other arm. She let go, falling down the side of the mech, her bracers holding off the transient edges. When she hit the ground, she leapt back to gain some distance and saw Dan firing one-handed, his other arm ending in a slowly dripping stump. She focused on the mech's readouts displayed on her glasses, moving from point to point. As the readouts changed, Ranma dove forward.


"What the hell's she doing?" Allison asked, standing near Dan after confirming that he was mostly all right. Her weapon was raised, but she couldn't fire for fear of accidentally hitting the redhead. Winston, out of grenade shells, had switched to his Ingrams, and Dan was reduced to one of his Uzis. Neither weapon, despite using special rounds, was producing much effect.

Sarah dropped to the ground in between Ranma and the others. Her plasma rifle was shouldered and aimed at the mech's chest. She looked down to see Ranma rushing forward. "What in God's name," she said, giving cover fire.

Ranma charged in towards the mech, which responded by shooting its metal spikes straight out. Ranma dodged, then in midair changed directions, flipping over, under, and between the quasi-solid blades. Ranma had managed to get near the machine again, only this time she was under it. Dual beams shot out, hitting the mech's legs and underside as she passed beneath it.

Once she was behind it, she briefly touched the ground before leaping back up. The mech's body and arm was swiveling around, lining up for another try. Ranma's glasses had formed a crosshair on a specific spot on the mech's midsection. Her bracers charged and fired, this time the twin beams of amplified chi had formed extremely narrow and focused, merging into each other midway to target.

The blades shot out at Ranma, who was hovering perfectly still while the beam burnt through several layers of armor. As the blades got closer, the runes on her bracers changed slightly. About half a dozen new beams shot out of the bracers, intersecting with the liquid blades.


"Dear Lord," Ned said, observing the fuku-clad redhead. The mech was desperately trying to dodge her attack, by both moving itself and sweeping with its one remaining blade device. But no matter how hard it tried, the winged girl kept in the same position. Wait, Winston thought, What's so critical about that one spot? I mean, she won't move and the mech's adamantly trying to stop her. And why hasn't it burned through yet? And then it fell into place. "Jesus!" Winston shouted, "Get back and get down — it's gonna blow!"

The beam then burned past the final layer of containment armor and into the mech's power core — a calash coded device used in golems (magically supplemented robots) as an energy source. When the beam hit the interior of the core, it destroyed several of the containment locks, causing an uncontrolled cascading reaction. The mech's safety cutoff system activated to try and shut down the reactor, but the countermeasures were damaged and Ranma was still pouring energy into it.

A blazing sphere of energy burst out if the of mech. It grew to a radius of about four feet, the beam of red energy still being pumped into it. Winston, unable to stay down, looked at the ball. It hung there part inside and part outside of the mech. The machine had gone still, its computers most likely having seized up. Ned was confused — he knew that when a core went critical, it blew up. He then studied the sphere. It was almost as if something was containing it.

Using the scope on his sniper rifle, he studied the point where the red beam met the sphere. His eyes widened in comprehension. Instead of impacting with the sphere, the beam split, and encircled the blast, containing it. He then saw the red grid was breaking down. The energy from the core leaked out. The gaps grew. "Fuck," Ned muttered. "Again! Get! Down!" he shouted as the blast ripped through the red shell.


Ranma had felt the template change, her body change, during the fight. Unlike other templates that had to be coded to match the user, that had to be upgraded manually, hers would grow and change, bonding with her, improving her as need be. Unfortunately, it had limits. She could do intercepts, barely, but that containment proved to be too much. The template told her she could do it, that it would upgrade itself to compensate.

"That was a lie," Ranma thought before hitting the ground, the pain of the impact accompanied by another pain. It was a tingling, stabbing, almost draining sensation. It was her template's script debuggers, trying to fix the hastily written code that had increased her speed, agility, sense perception, and bracer manipulation.

The original code had produced numerous memory leaks, misplacing energy and data. While small, the problems grew exponentially over time, small errors building on each other. Ranma lost consciousness as her body tried to fix itself.


Rebecca smirked at the explosion on computer screen. She has considered this test an acceptable success. Not only has she gotten some supporting evidence that the organic template technology could actually work — that naive girlfriend of Spore had no idea what she had stumbled onto — shown that this design of golems had some promise, but she had discovered the tactical limitations of four potential enemies' templates. Yes, today was a good day.


"What just happened?" Allison asked, covered in a light metal dusting.

"I think we just won," Ned said, getting up. He looked over to see a rather large shard of metal impaled into the ground next to him.

"What if there's more?" Sarah asked, scanning the treeline.

"If there was, they would have attacked by now," Dan said, then to Winston, "You know what this thing is?"

"Give me a moment" Ned started to walk around, looking at various bit of metal, mumbling to himself.

"Hey Ranma, you okay?" Sarah asked.

The unconscious redhead muttered something unintelligible.

"Oh God." Sarah walked up to Ranma. She was lying on the ground, her wings spread out under her. "She's changed again," Sarah said, noticing the slight costume change.

The runes on her amps had changed into a more recognizable pattern, looking almost like thorny vines. Her earrings had changed to little dangly gold roses. A ring had also appeared on her finger. Instead of a stone, it was a small piece of polished white bone, with a single rose scrimshawed in it. The etchings were in two colors. The ink for the stem was a dark, almost black, green, and the petals themselves were inked in blood red. However, the most noticeable change was her choker — embedded in the front of it was an egg-shaped piece of glass, and frozen perfectly inside it was a single, rather small rose.

"She hurt?" Dan asked.

"I don't think so," Sarah responded. "Her breathing's normal and all. It's like she's in a deep sleep, and won't wake up."

"Odd. Think the fight might've drained her?"

"Could have. I mean, this is the first major combat that Ranma's had with the template, and we really don't know anything about it."

"True."

"What about you? You lost an arm."

Holding the recently truncated limb, Dan responded, "Yeah, I think I'll be okay when I revert out of my template."

"Whatever you say."

"What do you think?" Dan asked Ned.

"Based on recent happenings, I'd have to agree — she's probably just drained. Give her a few hours and she'll be fine. As versatile those beams of hers are, they do have limits." Turning to Ranma specifically, "I'd imagine that the shield was really draining, intercepting all those hits. As to why she even tried to contain the explosion…."

"Any idea as to why the costume changed?" Allison asked.

"Don't know, although the changes seem to be superficial."

Dan sighed. "And what about the mech? I mean, only a few people work with golems. Fewer still are good enough to make that."

"This mech was based on a certain type of guymelef, a mech from an anime called Escaflowne. Whoever did this made some modifications, but yeah, the root is mine."

"So the same person that stole that temp also stole the design to make that golem. If the same person was behind both," Dan proposed. "Any idea who could do this?" he asked.

Ned's response was automatic. It was all part of the deal he had made with Rebecca, except now he was even more wary of reprisal. There was something very disturbing about that girl, and after all, it was not his fight. "Nope, although whoever did this must have been one hell of a hacker. I only got the slightest tinge of a security breach."

"That fits the pattern," Dan said.

"No problem," Ned said, but a small voice was nagging him. If this wasn't his fight, then why did he come and help them?

Dan looked back to see a woman leaving the school, walking towards them. "Damn. It's the VP."

"You guys go. I'll take care of this," Ned stated.

"Are you sure?" Dan said, looking at the approaching administrator.

Ned turned to the debris. "Yup."

"Thanks again." Then to the others, "Saddle up. We're going back to the barn."

"Can I drive?" Allison asked.

"Sure. It's not like you suck anymore. Sarah, can you carry Ranma? I'd help, but—"

"Yeah, yeah, one arm," the power-suit-wearing redhead said as she picked up her sister.


Standing next to the crater, Ned closed his eyes. He felt the Beast rumble as it powered up, then the distinct whine of a turbine. Opening his eyes, he saw the large black shape pass, then he looked over to see the administrator's final approach.

Judy Miller was not a happy educator. Unlike most of her coworkers, she couldn't lean back and let things slide. Unlike those lazy teachers, she had to provide some semblance of order. Granted, this was Lockridge, and some compromises had to be made, but this was taking things too far. "Well, well, Mr. Winston. It seems your friends have ditched you. I would have expected more from the sheriff's daughter and her friends, but…."

"I told them to go. It wasn't their fault."

"Well, you can explain what happened, then, because all I know is that a very large and possibly dangerous machine tore up the back fields while fighting with some students. Now, I know you possess expertise in such things."

"I just saw this thing advancing on my fellow students and I went to help."

Miller gave a tight-lipped smile. "So you were just being a Good Samaritan? That isn't like you."

"So?"

"And there's also the weapon discharges on school grounds."

"You know how the town council enforces laws. The response was justified."

"Depends. Was this," she pointed at the scattered debris, "your responsibility?"

Ned reverted out of his template, making the weapons disappear.

"Well, it doesn't matter. I'm sure an examination of the hardware will reveal its origins."

"I don't think whoever did this would be that sloppy."

"True."

"Not that it was my doing."

"Of course it wasn't. Seeing as the net damage was minimal, I'm willing to offer a deal. You clean up this mess, and we'll call it even."

Ned considered it. He could use the raw materials. He also had a means of transporting the goods to his workshop. A couple tons of metal in return for some landscaping and shipping. "Sure. I'll fix the field and dispose of the stuff."

Miller nodded. She hated having to constantly cut deals, but uncompromising enforcement was not an option. She couldn't even keep truancy down. Oh well, at least most of the little monsters were wiling to be diplomatic about it.

Ned nodded in return.


"Why are we still in our templates, and why'd we just leave?" Sarah asked, trying to get Ranma comfortable in her seat. Even in their compact form, her wings refused to lie flat enough.

"Because," Dan said while Allison forced the truck around a curve. "Someone tried to kill us, hurt us, or do something, and we need to be ready. That's why we're going back home. We can regroup there and plan our next move."

"And what will that be?" Allison asked.

"I don't know," was Dan's response, as they continued to drive home. They were about to turn onto the driveway when Allison noticed a car sitting in front of the garage. It was a familiar red Honda. Cautiously, they drove up, ready to leap out if need be. As they got closer, two people leaning against the vehicle became visible. One of them they all knew; the other, only Ranma would have been able to identify.


Rebecca was sitting on the back porch of her house, working on her laptop. Ned was a conundrum. She didn't care if he helped the others, just as long as he kept his end of the agreement. His actions were just curious. She was pleased with this latest bit of today's progress, although there were still many unaccounted variables to be found, and was putting the final touches on her next project. Unfortunately, these protocols were radically different than those in subject 1, and couldn't be implemented without interfering with other trials already under development. She needed another body to imprint. Finding one with the right potential would be difficult.

She lived alone. Her parents died in a plane crash two years ago. Afterward, she had been in the care of an aunt from Arizona. When she turned sixteen, she petitioned the town council to giver her adult status. Considering the uniqueness that is Lockridge and the relative proximity to eighteen, her request was granted. The aunt was all too relieved to go back to the normality of Phoenix.

This made it all the more unusual when her inner perimeter sensors were tripped. The cameras showed a hiker, Asian, male, perhaps a year younger than her. Obviously not going for stealth, it unnerved her as to how he could've slipped past the outer perimeter.

The wooded path that he was following would shortly bring him to the hilly meadow that tumbled down behind her house. She set the I/O sphere on long range ready to scan as soon as he got in range. The results were surprising.

In addition to having to potential for Calash, the hiker had two other bits of magic coded in him. One seemed to do something to point of location, but it was trivial; the other, however, was very similar to that of subject 1. Rebecca smiled. This was too convenient; again, a suitable subject had fallen right into her hands. The first time she hadn't realized the importance of what she'd done.

She would talk to the boy, see what he wanted, what he desired. She would then give it to him, with more than a few strings attached.

What she would find is a boy desperate for cures and revenge. And more than willing to make a deal.

 

To be continued.


Author's Notes: Some may note how I've changed how Allison 'sees' while invisible. That's because I was never really comfortable with the original explanation, and how crappy it implied the cloaking on Rebecca's golems.

Thanks to my Pre-readers, who made this chapter what it is: S. Metcalf, Akraen, Reisbeck, John, "wrayloflin", Gerald Jordan ,Jakub Andrew Painter, La Valley, Jay , Merritt, James, and the infinitely patient Joe Fenton for his work on the GenLost rewrite.

Chapter 5
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